In late March at the New Orleans Convention Center, where the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank finally had the good grace to conclude itself, one thing was for sure. No saints came marching in.
Instead, bankers, lobbyists, diplos, politicos, hangers-on, suck-ups, and heads of state all dropped by and then marched happily out again, many of them much richer than when they arrived. El Salvador, for example, came away with a 123-point-something million-dollar loan to privatize – whoops – modernize whatever is left of its public sector.
In Spanish, the acronym for the Inter-American Development Bank is BID. This is a particularly fitting bilingual acronym because, as it turned out, everything in sight at the annual meeting was for sale, if the price were right, including Antarctica. Seriously. Chile is selling it, and the BID – which is the Western Hemisphere clone of the World Bank only slightly meaner and more secretive, if you can imagine such a thing – is helping. And along with Antarctica, the BID is selling off other hunks of the hemisphere. Having already done its part in privatizing energy, communications, water services and the like, the BID is now lending money to the governments of some of Latin America’s poorest countries so that they can set up the sell-off of their social security and public health systems. As you might have guessed, this is not an especially popular campaign. Nobody liked it much in Honduras, where the cost of delivering a baby in a hospital rose suddenly from one dollar to fifty dollars – which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that most people in Honduras earn less than $400 a year. From November to March in El Salvador, social security and health workers went on strike to prevent a going-out-of-business sale of their public health services. With its customary sensitivity, Salvador’s police force attacked striking doctors in a hospital, liberally spraying the place with tear gas and noxious pellets. This treatment, of course, was counter-indicated for respiratory disorders, emergency room cases, and non-ambulatory patients, many of whom were reduced to rolling their wheel chairs, gurneys, and oxygen tanks down the hall as fast as they could, in flight from the armed enforcers of law and order.
After the gas had cleared and everyone settled back down, we paused to ask ourselves why in the world a government needs to borrow money in order to sell something? Don’t you usually get money when you sell your health system, your school system, or your airport? If not, why sell them? Who knows? Anyone?
Well, since we’re here at the BID’s New Orleans meeting, let’s just go shopping for bargains on public schools then, and find out. We dropped in on the Employment and Youth Seminar, to learn about “New Skills for a New Economy.” Jack Boyson of the International Youth Foundation (I.Y.F.) facilitated this production. His organization had received a $1.1 million grant from the BID to launch pilot projects for young persons in Ecuador, Guatemala, and Paraguay. The objectives of the project were to 1) promote the participation of young people in the development of their communities, 2) start projects that favor youth employment, 3) exchange experience among teachers and youth, 4) mobilize resources, and 5) improve the quality of youth projects. Now, you may be wondering how Jack can get a million dollars for a youth project to start and improve youth projects, but if you are, the BID has an answer for you. It’s none of your business. That’s the answer we got.
It is, however, the business of Cisco Systems, a networking partner of Jack’s and, thus, of the BID. In this capacity, Cisco Systems definitely wins the Cheapskate Benefactor award of this season for its Networking Academy Program in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Cisco gave Jack and his I.Y.F. $500,000 to wangle access to Latin American Ministries of Education and Youth. I.Y.F. went, of course, to the BID, which put Cisco in the official procurement loop of a lot of countries. For $500,000 Cisco Systems got privileged access to Latin American education budgets, just as educational systems are being privatized under pressure from – that’s right – the BID. And, lucky for Cisco, the budgets had just been fattened with a BID loan, which the BID wouldn’t make until the ministry privatized. Are you beginning to see why the government borrows money to sell its schools? Good.
Cisco is now establishing more Networking Academies: it donates equipment to set up a Regional Academy in a requesting country. In return, the government or the locals promise to finance ten additional academies using Cisco equipment to train more people to install and use – Cisco Systems. The corporation refers to its generosity as a component of its “Second Wave of Brand Advertising,” designed to “reinforce the facts about the Internet and what it is doing for people now and in the future.” One of the more interesting facts about the Internet is that “virtually all Internet traffic travels across the systems of one company. Cisco Systems,” as the company triumphantly exclaims in its first wave brand advertising.
But Cisco does not operate alone. It has partners besides Jack and the BID. As a matter of fact, it has Microsoft: “Cisco and Microsoft have joined forces to deliver solutions based on Microsoft Windows® 2000 that take advantage of our joint technology development on security, quality of service, and directory services.” So all Internet traffic travels through Cisco and all operating systems are Microsoft.
Is this starting to give you the creeps? Me too.
It got worse, though. Downstairs from the New Skills seminar, the Bank had deployed the Technology Village, like a digitized stage set for a horror movie. This display, which featured very cute cardboard mockups of French Quarter row houses and Negro marching bands, occupied the better part of five cavernous indoor acres. Every fake block or so, there was a wrought iron bench and a pretend bush. The Village was set up with all the charm of a real town, with a library, post office, lampposts, plastic trees, a school, a virtual soccer field, a paint factory, and a prison. All village modules could operate electronically, through e-commerce, e-learning, e-mail, e-jail, e-tcetera.
As we wandered through, we stopped first at the school, under the colorful banner, “Internet en mi comunidad.” Here, if you are a newly privatized Latin American school system with a piece of a BID loan, you could choose from a variety of products for your basic education program. Front Row® seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. It claimed that after installation, your comunidad would be Learning at the Speed of Change™. This program comes complete with Total Movement Video®, Group Web Navigator,® and biodirectional interactivity. It is produced by Computer Associates®, powered by Unicenter TNC®, and secured by eTrust™. Obviously, all of this stuff is patented and copyrighted so that if you secretly copied or taped it because you could not afford to buy it, you would go right to jail. And if you think you could just disappear and get away with it, think again.
In the old days, it was easy to disappear in many Latin American countries; many people did it even when they didn’t plan to. But it’s not so simple anymore. This is because Digital Justice Solutions® has been selling pantloads of tecnologia to Latin American police and army men, which they pay for with BID loans. Much of the stuff they wear on their persons, like, for example, the components of Tecnologia RAID®. To be honest, we could not find out exactly what these components are, but apparently, you do wear them in your shoes, on your belt, and in your underpants.
Not only that, but the police could find you easily because they have purchased Sistema Mugshot® with Customer Dial In, now available from Rockwell International. The system is a module of Printrak,® which streamlines booking procedures and improves inmate processing, according to its propaganda. It also helps with cell assignment and personal property data, which we don’t really want to think about. Printrak® has been adopted to produce national identity cards in Argentina and passports in Guatemala, although neither government is renowned for fussing around about the precise identification of its detainees or refugees. We understand, in fact, that people often leave Guatemala in a great big hurry and without any luggage, never mind a passport.
Too bad Salvador’s police had not yet purchased this technology, though, the day they gassed the hospital. According to reports, striking public health personnel escaped the onslaught by slipping away into the crowd outside. If the police had been online to Sistema Mugshot and could have collected totally digital IDs, this would not have been possible. If, however, you’re arrested for striking in El Salvador, your booking process will be pretty speedy anyway. Authorities there won’t worry for too long about your cell assignment because after you’ve been processed with Tecnologia RAID, you’ll probably need a plot instead.
What the hell is wrong with these BIDders? They make an awful lot of money each for people whose best defense is that they have absolutely no idea about what is really going on. Did the BIDders miss the entire account of the Pinochet caper? Does Operation Condor sound at all familiar? You remember, that ugly rumor about Chile’s secret police working with other armies and navies to find and exterminate all those terrorists who actually turned out to be graduate students, labor organizers, peasants, and nuns. What if General Pinochet had had the good fortune to plug his operatives into Sistema Mugshot? With Customer Dial-in? What about that?
At the exit from the Technology Village, the pitchmen were taking their last shot at those lucky finance ministers whose loans had just been signed because, after all, these guys could now write big checks for real money. Which explains why it costs so much to sell the criminal justice and the public health systems. After you privatize and fire everyone, you have to replace them with Tecnologia Body Dump® and Sistema Pap Smear®, which cost a lot of public money. So the ministers fly home in glory with cargo bays full of hardware and service agreements and debt. Cisco and Microsoft are going to bring all of Latin America crashing right smack into the twenty-first century. For many of us, this is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt because if you protest your local school being sold to General Electric,® you will be fixed right up with Digital Justice Solutions.® After that, you’ll need an ambulance and a paramedic, both of which will now be much more expensive. And when you get through paying for them, you’ll to have to pay back the BID loan – with interest – that made it all possible.
Gabriela Bocagrande has returned from Technology Village to her home in Imperial Village.